Myanmar’s government has blocked access to Facebook in the country, after users turned to the company’s services to protest this week’s military coup. In a statement given to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook confirmed that the country’s telecoms providers had been ordered to block its services, adding, “We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with family and friends and access important information.” Myanmar’s government has ordered the services to be blocked until Sunday.
The block comes after users reportedly turned to the social network to protest after the military ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and detained her along with other members of her party. The WSJ notes that users on Facebook were sharing photos of themselves banging pots and pans as a sign of protest, as well as images of a three-fingered salute — a gesture that’s become a sign of resistance in the region.
“Facebook is the internet”
Telecoms provider Telenor confirmed to Nikkei that it has followed the government’s orders, saying it has “decided to comply with the directive, while expressing grave concerns regarding breach of human rights.” The WSJ reports that an internet monitoring organization, NetBlocks, confirmed that Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp are all unavailable via the state-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications’ network.
Facebook is an integral part of Myanmar’s internet ecosystem. “For the majority of Myanmar’s 20 million internet-connected citizens, Facebook is the internet” was how a report from 2018 put it, and Nikkei notes that Messenger is the primary communications channel for most of its citizens. It’s believed around half of the country’s population holds a Facebook account, meaning any attempt to block the service is a significant move.
This close relationship between Myanmar’s internet and Facebook has created problems. In 2018, Facebook admitted that it hadn’t done enough “to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence,” after critics said its platform had played a role in genocidal violence in the country. Facebook said it was investing in “people, technology and partnerships to examine and address the abuse of Facebook in Myanmar.”